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Food & agriculture - Apr 13

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Obesity reduction and its possible consequences: What can we learn from Cuba's Special Period?

Manuel Franco, MD PhD, Pedro Orduñez, MD PhD, Benjamín Caballero, MD PhD and Richard S. Cooper, MD;
Canadian Medical Journal

In a recent issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology,1 we described the relation between sustained population-wide weight loss and a decline in all-cause mortality and in the rates of death from diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease in Cuba. The widespread weight loss resulted from the economic crisis known as the "Special Period," which Cuba experienced in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This period of economic and social hardship also had negative consequences for health. For example, a neuropathy outbreak, possibly due to vitamin deficiencies, affected 50 000 people between 1992 and 1993,2 and the decline in infant mortality that Cuba had been experiencing reversed between 1990 and 1993.3 The neuropathy outbreak did not affect children, elderly people or pregnant women because a special rationing system was in place to protect them. The Cuban population showed high levels of social cohesion, especially within families, in a time of economic hardship.2

... Key points

  • During the economic crisis Cuba experienced in the 1990s, energy
    intake per capita gradually decreased to 1863 kcal/d (7820 kJ/d)
    and the proportion of physically active adults increased from 30%
    to 67%. These changes affected the whole population and were
    sustained for almost 5 years.

  • The result was widespread modest weight loss (4-5 kg, or 5%-6%
    of body weight) and a decline in all-cause mortality and rates of
    death from diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

  • Countries such as Canada and the United States, where more than
    half the population is either overweight or obese, could benefit
    from health policies whose aim is population-wide weight loss.

  • Population changes would need to be made at all social and
    political levels, including provincial, territorial and municipal
    levels and at schools, workplaces and households.

  • Interventions should include making fruits and vegetables more
    readily available and less expensive, reducing the availability
    and increasing the prices of high-energy foods, and promoting
    walking and bicycling as means of transportation.

(8 April 2008)
PDF version

For comparison, see Many Britons overweight - and malnourished (Associated Press June 8, 2007).

The Cuban experience holds particular interest for peak oilers, since the country underwent the equivalent of peak oil, when the USSR collapsed and stopped sending oil shipments. Many articles have been written about the impact on Cuban agriculture. Community Solutions has produced a widely viewed film on the subject: The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil . -BA


The recipe for food rights (Vandana Shiva interview)

Al Jazeera
... Dr. Vandana Shiva is a physicist, ecologist, activist, editor, and author of many books. She talks to Al Jazeera about the food crisis in India, and what can be done to overcome it.

Al Jazeera: One of the causes of the huge rises in India's food prices is the soaring rate of inflation. India is experiencing its highest rate of inflation in three years. What is behind this increase?

Dr Shiva: There are a number of reasons why the prices of food commodities are rising in India. The first is related to economic policies - the policies of integrating India with global markets.

There is a huge agrarian crisis but it's not from the beginning of our freedom, it's not a leftover of feudalism. The agrarian crisis is a result of globalisation.

... Q: What effect is that having on ordinary people in India?

Dr Shiva: It's having a huge impact. Already, about half of India was not eating full meals; going through days without food. With the price rise, I can see about 70 to 80 per cent of India will be pushed into hunger and starvation.

There are two other additional issues that have come up in recent years. Last year, both the European government and the US government made a 10 per cent blending requirement and put huge subsidies into biofuels, diverting food from feeding the hungry to running automobiles. This has driven up prices of food.

... Q: But do you think governments will look at that as a solution? What has the government in India done?

Indian farmers tend to receive lower prices for their produce than those in the US and EU [EPA]. It has to be the solution. The Third World does not need charity; the Third World needs food sovereignty. It needs freedom to produce it own food. Let's just recognise the ecological endowments - it is Africa and Asia that have the best soils, the best sun, the best biodiversity.

Never, ever have we had this scale of a problem, except during the great Bengal famine, which also was driven by so-called free trade.

I'd like to just mention: free trade is not free. Every one of the problems we have … have been triggered by government policy

Climate change is creating instability in agriculture. Unfortunately the UN representative said the new green revolution in Africa would solve these problems. It is going to make it worse.

A green revolution based on nitrogen fertilisers in 2008 is a recipe for emissions of nitrogen oxides, further instability of the climate and further hunger and starvation.
(11 April 2008)

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